This is from the third chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends to join us.
THE HEMLOCK INN – PART 2
Before the amen’s echo bounced back from the walls of the dining room, chairs were scraping on the wooden floor as the guests seemingly dove into their places and began to dig into the hearty and delicious Southern meal: fried chicken (of course!), perfectly seasoned with a thick, crunchy breading; green beans with ham hocks and just the right saltiness; ham that fell off the bone and could easily be cut with a fork; silky-smooth, creamy potatoes with brown and sawmill gravies; three types of salad with a variety of made-from-scratch salad dressings; candied carrots; at least three types of freshly baked bread, and a basketful of steaming-hot yeast rolls with local clover and wildflower honey butter and a wealth of other delectable homemade toppings and jams. Barb teased me that my eyes were as big as the countless platters.
During dinner, we found out that R.P. and Sally were active in the leadership of Arlington Heights Baptist Church and that R.P was a past chairman of the hospital board of trustees. It finally dawned on me that this was not such a coincidence that the Jenkinses just happened to be here for dinner and seated at our table.
As Kate happily munched on a drumstick and mashed potatoes, we visited with a tableful of new friends. Most had been at the inn for one- or two-week visits, year after year, for many years. We learned that true newcomers, such as us, were uncommon—a rarity, in fact.
The dinner discussion was the typical talk of the day— where people went, what they did, what they discovered. Questions to the newcomers centered on who you were, where you were from, and why you had been so foolish as to never have visited the Hemlock Inn before. Upon discovering that we were considering this little hamlet as our home, a cacophony of oohs and aahs circled the table, peppered with comments like, “I’d sure move here if I could,” and, “You sure are lucky to pick a place like this,” or, “Honey, see what I told you? Young professionals are moving out here.” These comments were an encouragement to us and increased our rapidly growing feelings of fondness for the area.
After we had finished dinner and Barb put Kate in bed, we joined the Shells and Jenkinses on the porch, pulling a group of rocking chairs into a semicircle. Dusk was beginning to fall over the valley, and as it did, the autumn colors of the trees underwent transformation through a cornucopia of colors. The hills almost seemed aflame. The wind was blowing gently.
Barb broke the companionable silence. “John and Ella Jo, what led you all to move to the area, or are you from here originally?”
“Oh no, we’re not from here,” John answered. “But we love this area. Moved up here from Atlanta to own and operate this lovely little inn in this beautiful locale.” He paused to consider how best to articulate his thoughts. “There is so very much here that we like. The history of the area is a rich one. The people are wonderful. The weather’s great, and there’s plenty of fresh air and water. It’s a safe community—a great place to raise your kids. The schools are good, and the teachers are top-notch. It’s a religious community. The hunting and fishing and hiking are superb. And thanks to Mr. Douthit, our little hospital is just fabulous—given its size.”
He paused again, looking troubled, almost confused about where to go next. R.P. Jenkins intervened, “Walt, our surgical services at the hospital are excellent. Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Cunningham bring in a lot of business and a lot of patients. They do a lot of surgery and do a good job. Our operating rooms are large and modern—they have all the best equipment. And our two nurse anesthetists are fabulous. People will travel here from quite a ways away.”
John interjected, “And some of our medical services are good. We’ve got a new lab and a new emergency room. Our new X-ray equipment is state-of-the-art. Dr. Sale does an excellent job, but . . .”
There was a moment of silence. John and R.P. looked at each other. What is going on? I wondered.
“What the men are hesitant to say,” interrupted Sally, “is that we have a number of physicians that are . . .” She paused. “How should I say this? They are, uh, getting older. Sometimes they can be moody or cantankerous. People around here get a little tired of that. So they leave and take their medical business elsewhere. That’s not good for the hospital or the community.”
“The older folks, the ones who have trouble traveling, don’t seem to be leaving to see doctors in other towns,” explained R.P. “But the younger families sure are.”
“And,” added John, “it doesn’t help that none of the doctors deliver babies anymore. That’s one of the reasons we’re so excited about the possibility of you coming here. Your experience and training would be perfect for our little town.”
“I wouldn’t expect things to change overnight,” warned R.P. “But as folks get to know you, they’ll certainly stay and have their babies here.”
“Just like they used to,” Sally mused.
Quietness reigned for a few moments as we relished the cool air and the enveloping dusk.
“Well, folks,” I said, “Barb and I are excited about finding a home for our family. We’re eager to settle down and to build a practice somewhere. So tomorrow’s going to be a special day for us. We’re looking forward to seeing the hospital and the town and meeting the board members and the other doctors.”
Both couples looked at each other. Then Ella Jo spoke her first words to me, “Dr. Larimore, I have to be honest with you. I’m not sure some of the doctors want to meet you.”
This unsettled me. I was quiet.
“They’ve become so comfortable with the status quo. They’ve got plenty of patients and they make enough money. I’m worried that you might be a threat to them. There’s not been a new doctor around here in quite a while. And those who come usually get shooed right away. It’s downright shameful.” She seemed almost angry.
“Ella Jo,” her husband cautioned, “don’t you think that type of talk’s a bit severe for our new friend?”
“No, I do not!” she exclaimed—sitting up in her chair. “You board members”—she was pointing a finger at her husband and then at R.P.—“need to take back a little control from those medical deities. They’ve been running things just a little bit too long. It’s hurting our hospital, and it’s hurting our town. What we need around here is a well-timed funeral or two!” She sat back, obviously fuming, but done with her soliloquy.
“Well,” Sally added, “I don’t think that’s true of Mitch and Ray. Mitch made Ray feel welcome and has brought him right into this community. And the other doctors have come to accept him. Goodness, I even think they like him.”
“That’s only because he’s with Mitch,” opined Ella Jo.
There was another moment of silence. “What we need to do,” suggested John, “is see if Mitch and Ray would consider taking Walt under their wing. Their office is empty in the morning while they’re in the operating room. One of them is off one afternoon a week. So there’s room in their office at least seven half-days a week.”
“That’s a great idea, John!” exclaimed R.P. as he sat up in his rocking chair. “That could take care of everything.”
I wasn’t so sure. Barb gave me that “we need to go” look. “Ladies and gentlemen,” I announced, “it’s been a lovely evening. Ella Jo, the meal was above and beyond.” Her smile ran ear to ear. “We’ve had a long day and have a longer one tomorrow. If it’s OK, I think we’ll turn in.”
“Oh, you bet. You betcha,” said John. He, Ella Jo, and the Jenkinses stood to say farewell.
“Tomorrow’s the start of another day. A great day!” exclaimed R.P. as we turned to leave.
As we walked to our room, I thought, Beautiful land. Warm and gracious people. Rich history. But the medical staff and the hospital—would I want to be a part of them? Or would they even want me to be a part of them? My doubts were growing.
(TO BE CONTINUED NEXT FRIDAY)
© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2019. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.